Sunday, November 30, 2014

Thankful For Some Lovely Bloggers

I would be remiss in closing out this Thanksgiving weekend without a long-overdue thank-you to some bloggers whose well-wishes I appreciate.

Go back with me, for a moment, to that month leading up to my trip to Ireland. You know, that trip in October which, for months, consumed my every waking moment with panic-stricken thoughts of not being “prepared enough” to take my research on the road.

It was back in September when the last of the research-panics hit me with the inevitable countdown to take-off. Only three weeks to “finish.” Then two. Then a count of days. Packing? Who needs to do that in advance? I still have to look up more online records!

In the midst of that personal frenzy, there was something happening elsewhere in the blogging world. Who started it, I can’t quite figure out. All I know is it was one of those creators of a “meme”—a sure misnomer in my book, where I’ve always understood a meme to be something spontaneously occurring to more than one individual at roughly the same time—who decided to devise an award to pass along through the blogosphere.

By the time the meme made its way from general writing blogs to specific history blogs, and then honed in on genealogy blogs, the weeks had passed from August to September. Come September 7, Alex Daw of Family Tree Frog had sent the nomination from Brisbane, Australia to San Diego, California. Now the hot potato was in the hands of prolific genealogy blogger, Randy Seaver. From the pages of Randy's Genea-Musings, the cheer spread out once again—in fifteen different directions, incidentally—and landed in my lap by September 10.

Great! I had been nominated for the “One Lovely Blog” Award. I felt honored. But swamped. Stymied like a deer in oncoming headlights, I froze.

Should have acted quicker, I soon discovered. On the heels of Randy’s kind nomination came a second one. On September 19, no less than Genealogy Rock Star Top Ten designee Sharn White of Sydney, Australia, included me in her fifteen selections on FamilyHistory4U. (In case anyone’s counting, Sharn gave me the number one position on her list—surely this was coincidental!—and for a bonus, quoted from one of my posts. Flattery can get you everywhere.)

So far, that added up to two nominations: one from Down Under and one from down south. I didn’t know what to do—remember, countdown to take-off was now at ten days, and I still didn’t feel ready to go on that trip.

The price of delay: three days later, Elise Ann Wormuth made it a trio with her post on Living in the Past. Elise is a relatively new blogger, but she is not new to the world of writing—nor the world of art and photography. She is a retired college professor of English. She and I struck up a virtual acquaintance when we discovered that we had been in the same place at the same time—last year’s Southern California Genealogical Society’s Jamboree conference—but didn’t know it.

By this time, I was one week shy of our departure for Ireland. What to do? A response included not only writing “seven things” about myself, but acknowledging and linking back to each nominating person’s own blog. In addition, the requirements included sharing a list of my own fifteen favorite blogs. Finding a list of fifteen great blogs would be no problem, I thought: I’m not as voracious a blog reader as Randy Seaver, but I do subscribe to a huge number of genealogy blogs, as well as blogs on other topics. But taking the time to put the post together was weighing on me.

I thought I’d wiggle out of this one by saving the post to do after my return home. By that time—the third week of October—the World Series would just about be over, and I could piggyback on some baseball vernacular with a title like “Triple Play.” I did, after all, have three gracious bloggers to thank for their encouragement.

I spoke too soon when I came up with that answer. Later that same day—September 22 by now—Cheri Hudson Passey of Carolina Girl Genealogy added her voice to the chorus. That made four.

The very next day, another nomination came in. This one was from Elizabeth Handler of From Maine to Kentucky. But that wasn’t the last of it. One more was added to the list—I didn’t even realize it until I was already in Ireland—from Linda Stufflebean of Empty Branches on the Family Tree.

What to do with all this? For one thing, I’m certainly glad it didn’t mean I needed to do six times the fifteen recommendations the award requested. While I’m sure there are ninety blogs out there, worthy of my mention, I’m not sure you’d be a willing partner in slogging through a list of that length.

For another thing, it always seems so un-fun of a person to decline an invitation to “come out and play.” It was gracious of these several bloggers to think of me, in composing their “best of” lists. I certainly want to acknowledge their thoughtfulness—and please do follow the links back to their blogs, if you aren’t familiar with them; you may find another delightful stop to add to your blog reading routine. Besides, I didn’t want to just turn out to be a grump and not play along. You know how I love blogging and what other bloggers are doing with their virtual space—not to mention these researchers’ desire to give back to the genealogical community by sharing their family history findings.

In deciding what to do, I had to face some realizations. First, of course, was the time pressure. (Don’t think returning home from a three week trip removed that restriction; there is no such thing, really, as a vacation. You always have to catch up on what you missed when you return home.) Then, I realized that I am already sharing blog recommendations—both here, as they are appropriate to the subject of my daily post, and on my other social media outlets. As for the other award requirement—sharing seven things about yourself—I think a daily post, over the years, is ample face time to allow one to achieve that task.

So, what to do? In communicating with one blogger who had nominated me, the point was brought up that, just because a person is nominated doesn’t necessarily mean she is obligated to follow suit. I can simply say thank you and let it rest at that. Thinking of my blogging friend Wendy Mathias’ banner on Jollett Etc., “Award Free Blog,” I decided to do just that.

And so, a warm—and grateful—acknowledgement of these well wishes from so many fellow bloggers! I appreciate your recommendations and your good thoughts. I’ve basked in those warm thoughts again during this Thanksgiving weekend, and I didn’t want this holiday and its theme of gratefulness to slip away without posting this formal note of thanks. May each of you continue—in your own inimitable way—to bring your personal vision of genealogical pursuits to your readers in a way that encourages others to do so as well. There is nothing so heartwarming as a willingness to freely share what you’ve worked so hard to learn.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Not Everyone is Called to This Mission

How’s your Thanksgiving weekend going? Sick of leftovers yet? All shopped out from Black Friday—or its new sidekick, Black Friday Eve?

Everyone has a focus, and for some, it’s culinary arts. Or gustatory delights. Or shopping. Admittedly, football is on a lot of people’s lists. And yes, there is genealogy.

For those focused on genealogy, there is a family history connection for everything. Especially Thanksgiving. That, of course, is a holiday built around family, so the angle is obvious.

One suggestion making the rounds, leading up to this Thanksgiving, was to take the opportunity to capture some family history: interview older relatives about their memories of family long ago.

Perhaps you’ve tried that: in the midst of Thursday’s full agenda, finding the eldest of your relatives and pulling her aside for a quiet chat—or worse, putting her under the spotlight, front and center (all recorded, of course)—to glean those details that, somehow, you’ve missed after years of diligent research. Sometime after the turkey made it into the oven, but before the kids come in from a rousing game of mud football, this would be your chance.

No, someone just came running in from the game, tracking mud through the hallway. Wait, the Thanksgiving Day Parade is on. Whoever is blasting that music, turn it down! Or use your earbuds. Really! Why is anyone in the kitchen right now? Did someone just drop a plate? Stop nibbling on the dessert! Out! Oh, no, the turkey is done early. The mashed potatoes aren’t ready yet. Company’s at the door. Phone call: your sister/daughter/niece who moved to the other side of the country is homesick and wants to talk. Hurry, the pregame show is on in half an hour; I don’t want to miss it.*

About the time the thankful household experiences its first lull of the holiday, everyone is overdosed on tryptophan and ready for a nap. Great Grandma? She’s already out.

So maybe the Thanksgiving interview with the elders didn’t work out for you—or if it did, the minute you turned on the tape recorder, the matriarch of the family instantly stopped talking. But there are other ways to get people talking about their family history, even if it isn’t at the Thanksgiving Day gathering.

I like what Smadar Belkind Gerson, author of Stored Treasures and blogger at Past-Present-Future, discovered: she could encourage her children to pick up an interest in their family history. In Smadar’s case, it was her eldest son who began researching the family’s story by interviewing his grandparents as part of a project for his Bar Mitzvah. Of course, it helped that her son’s conversation with his grandparents allowed him to see those elders as the children they once were, with parents of their own. An extra bonus was discovering that his grandfather was once a champion swimmer—and finding those unusual stories of fame or good fortune will certainly perk up anyone’s attention.

Yet, in an interview with Sarah Sward Ashley on Geneartistry, recapping that experience of her son’s exploration of the family’s history, Smadar observed, “My advice: don’t force them.”

She wisely noted that
Everyone needs to go through their own process and we each have a different pace of when we become interested. I took forty years to focus my attention on family history. Some people take even longer.

One genealogist, author Stephanie Pitcher Fishman, discovered the utility of family history as a tool in helping students focus on history—particularly local history. Family history is a way to make the big events of history seem more personal. Writing for The In-Depth Genealogist, Stephanie listed suggestions on augmenting school studies with the real-life context of students’ own family stories, to help nurture their interest in history.

While Stephanie’s article focused on suggestions which could be implemented particularly well by homeschooling families, another writer designed a grade-specific curriculum which easily fits into the public school academic design. Jennifer Holik, creator of the Branching Out curriculum, is also a genealogist in the Chicago area, and among other topics, speaks to groups about “Engaging the Next Generation.”

Inspiring a love of genealogy in others—particularly the younger generations—is a vital step in insuring that we preserve and pass along the information we’ve already accumulated and assembled. And that strategy has worked, in many cases. While it seemed, in the past, that genealogical research was the domain of the recently-retired—and beyond—groups like The NextGen Genealogy Network demonstrate that genealogy’s siren call is going out to all generations.

And it’s had its benefits. If it weren’t for the customary “family tree” assignment given in one New Jersey high school, a cousin of mine wouldn’t have stumbled upon that long-buried account of how our ancestors weren’t really Irish (as we were told), but Polish. For some students, that’s the seed that sprouted a lifelong fascination with genealogy.

For every student for whom the interest was awakened, though, there are so many others who see nothing appealing in the exercise. Those are the many for whom some of us mourn that we will have no one to whom we can pass our many years of research.

It is for these forlorn researchers that I can only offer encouragement. These are our fellow researchers who are so far beyond that naïve hope that a magical moment at the yearly family Thanksgiving gathering will suddenly spark in some other relative an insatiable hunger for more information. These are the people who mourn that there is “no one to pass this down to.”

While you are looking for that younger person to follow in your footsteps—no, to stand on your research shoulders and take your discoveries to a higher height—remember what Smadar Belkind Gerson observed. It took her forty years to awaken to a fascination with the story of her family. Others may take longer. You may not see anyone as a possible candidate now, but just wait. It may take decades, but someone you know—or maybe even someone who is not yet in your family—will someday realize that call to take up where you leave off in your research.

And the rest of all those people? The ones who would rather slip and slide through the mud to tackle that pigskin? The ones who would rather shop ’til they drop? The ones who definitely do not want to spend their Thanksgiving holiday listening to Aunt Mabel drone on about the “good ol’ days”?

Sometimes, it is best to be charitable and realize that not everyone is called to this mission. And be at peace with that reality. Remember—even if it takes a wait of forty years—there will be someone else to pick up where we leave off.

*All characters appearing in this paragraph are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Stumbling Upon Stuff

Oh, the things you find when you’re looking for something else.

For yesterday’s post, I had wanted to conclude with a photograph of one of my first Thanksgiving meals—as a child. It was a simple picture my dad had snapped of my sister and me, flanking our mother as we took our seats for dinner. Everything looked so strangely small: the turkey on the kitchen table in our tiny Cape Cod home—a place so small, it didn’t even have a dining room.

Small, yes. But special. It not only evoked fond memories of times past, together as family, but it has become a reminder of a time when we seemed to be much more satisfied with so much less.

For months, I had saved that photograph to insert with a Thanksgiving post here—you know, kept it in that special place where I was sure to find it. In the rush of running around, preparing for The Big Meal With Company, wouldn’t you know I’d lose that token of what life was like in a simpler time.

Still, as my husband likes to point out, there may be a reason for a loss like that. He always cautions to pay attention to what you find while you are looking for what you lost. Along the way, in your search for that missing object, you may uncover something else that needed to be brought to your attention.

I suppose that is one way to say, “Enjoy the journey, not just the destination.” And here is what I found on my “journey” to locate that missing picture: document upon document set aside to help me complete my D.A.R. application.

Yes, the D.A.R. application. You only thought I finished that project when I last blogged about it. But there were a few details standing between me and Job Done. Most of them had to do with those petty requirements of documentation. After the loss of my aunt last year, though, in going through all her belongings, I happened—piece by piece, of course—to locate a couple of just about every document I needed. Including some evidence to help me navigate those tricky name changes done without benefit of legal verification—you know, the kind when a person just up and decides to change his or her name. Just like that. Try constructing a paper trail on a scenario like that.

Finding these papers prompts me to look at this upcoming month as time for a year’s-end round-up. Seems like there are always projects that get started, but for whatever reason, are then put on hold—and never revisited. The D.A.R. project is one that I would not like to keep in perpetual suspension, and now that I have what I need to proceed, it’s as good a time as any to complete the task.

Perhaps entering into this holiday season is the best time for clean-up efforts like this. Just looking at the last two days and how much time and effort went into activities other than my usual research helps me realize that steady progress on research is just not likely to happen in a month like December. Finishing up these shorter tasks may be just the ticket to gaining a sense of accomplishment without launching a new—and likely, messy—project. It would be much more satisfying to close out the year, knowing I closed the book on a research project that still needed to be completed. And, if I can pull this off right, it sure would clean the slate for a fresh start in the New Year.

“But it’s only November,” you say? Don’t blink. You might just trip and fall into 2015 without realizing it.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

A Day of Small Beginnings

If you are starting this day off in preparation for a gigantic feast of turkey and dressing, mashed potatoes and gravy, candied yams and green bean casserole, plus umpteen side dishes, salads, and maybe a ham for good measure, you have likely been doing this Thanksgiving routine for quite a few years.

Thanksgiving hasn’t always been so big. I can’t help thinking of a new generation, just starting out, wondering how they will get “it” all done. Among my friends, I’ve had at least two mention how a grandson or nephew has moved to a new apartment, or just welcomed a first baby into a new household. Fresh starts like these are just the setting for a new generation clamoring for Thanksgiving to be celebrated at their house this year. I hardly imagine the board will be groaning under their first attempts at feast-making—but the gathering will be just as special as always.

I can’t help thinking about another someone who will be doing her own cooking—this one far from home. Not in her own country, even. Try picking up a package of cranberries for a Thanksgiving dinner when you’re preparing it in Ireland. I imagine she’ll be hard pressed to succeed at that feature of the meal’s mainstays—though she did remind me of her shopping prowess when she once managed to procure dried ancho chiles for a favorite soup recipe, upon her arrival in Cork. With or without cranberries, she has been helping another forlorn foreign student cook up a feast for several Americans on campus today, and will follow that up with another joint effort back at her apartment this weekend—between turning in several final papers, no less.

That reminds me of my own first Thanksgiving attempt. In our humble one bedroom apartment, my galley-style kitchen became the scene of my holiday culinary debut. It was the first in a long line of episodes in which a fear of not having enough food for company—or dishes which my in-laws would, you know, actually like—produced the obvious outcome: more leftovers than our refrigerator could hold. The menu came complete with a choice of four salads for starters—something which my family has not let me forget. Of course, nobody chose; they had to taste all of it. By the time we got to the main course, who knows if anyone was still hungry.

Yet, it was on folding chairs that we sat around the tiny table holding that feast. Our living room “suite” was an extra-long twin bed covered in tie-dyed fabric, with bolsters along the wall behind us. I think we had some beanbag chairs. Our bookcase was made of planks of wood held up by cinder blocks—upon which our one proud possession, a stereo system, sat nestled with our umpteen books. Hey, we were starving students.

As we pass along family traditions to a younger generation, often it seems the memories preserved in their minds are of those grander, more recent, variations of our efforts as hosts. It’s easy for teenagers to remember the gatherings where they get together with their cousins while the older generations settle in for more subdued activities. Not as clearly remembered are those humble beginnings of the simple Thanksgiving gatherings when they were toddlers and their parents were just starting out. Those earlier times, however, were just as sweet—perhaps even more so.

I sometimes wonder whether that tradition of grand celebrations sets the bar so high for the next generation that it provokes a sense of competition. Somehow, each new generation has to be better than the last. When it comes to more, though, in the realm of blessings, perhaps we face a diminishing return. The more we have, the less grateful we seem to be for each blessing.

As a country, too, we once had a small beginning. Once, it was a time that demanded not just hard work to get by—it was a question of struggling for survival. Whether you consider the “first Thanksgiving” to have been a legend or a reality, there is no question that there was a time when blessings were received with more thankfulness—every single blessing held a more significant meaning for its recipient.

After all these decades of bigger and better blessings, on this day today, I hope that, whether you ate too much pie, or had to go for a long walk before you could tackle that second round of leftovers, your sense of blessing will remain as keen as it ever was in the time of your small beginning.  

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

“A Dear Profitless Spot of Land”

A gneeve, a sessiagh, a ballyboe.

Surely, none of these terms would make sense to anyone in the English-speaking world but the Irish—well, at least the Irish who are familiar with the “traditional” designations of land divisions. I’m sure you’ll be as grateful as I was to uncover a study explaining those ancient divisions of land in Ireland, compiled by the first director of the Ordnance Survey of Ireland and posted by some kind and sympathizing soul on Wikipedia.

The tally goes something like this:
            Ten acres equals one gneeve.
            Two gneeves is one sessiagh.
            Three sessiaghs becomes one ballyboe.

It is after this point that our tongues finally stumble upon words that seem vaguely familiar. Two ballyboes make one ploughland. And four ploughlands make up one townland.

And you thought pronouncing the names of the townlands was difficult!

The townlands in Ireland—that Gaelic system of land division pre-dating the Normans—form the smallest unit of governmental administration under the civil parishes. There are more than sixty thousand townlands in Ireland. To give you an overview of the townland names for just one county—County Kerry in the southwest coastal region of the Republic of Ireland—you can peruse the listing here. I’m sure you’ll spot some personal favorites among the many names listed, as I did—even if you can’t figure out how to pronounce them.

Despite the calibrations detailed above, those townlands are not of a uniform size, and an extensive amount of work has been done, over the years, to standardize the boundaries of these townlands.

Though you may have noticed the “town” in “townlands,” the concept of towns as we know it was not part of the traditional, pre-British, rural Gaelic system. That timeframe represented a more agrarian society and lifestyle. Indeed, the very term “ballyboe” comes from the Irish baile bó, which means “cow land.”

Of course, not every piece of property was designated for grazing land. But you can be sure each of those tongue-twisting townland names came with its own meaning.

As far as pronunciation challenges go, there are lots of townland names to put you to the test. Though I haven’t the faintest how to pronounce them, here are some of my favorites—all gleaned in honor of our visit to the townlands of our Kelly and Falvey ancestors in County Kerry.

There’s Coomdeeween and Cloonnafinneela. Derrylooscaunagh and Dromvally. Gortdromagownagh and Gortna Killa. Perhaps you’d fancy Inchymagilleragh? Great. You have your choice of Inchy East and Inchy West.

Or how about Knockacappul? Here’s one the younger generation can celebrate: Knockaneacoolteen. See? They told you it was so.

And here’s my personal top favorite: Knockataggle Beg. Not enough for you? There’s always Knockataggle More.

Yes. There is a place called that.

Of course, there are unimaginative townland names like Acres. Or Barleymount—not just one, but three: Barleymount East, Middle and West. Someone must have liked that name. At least you can pronounce it. And then, the least imaginative of them all: Castlefarm. Ya think?

Not to say these names are all nonsensical creations. They do, of course, have meanings. Meanings reaching back far before the anglicization of the island. To get an idea of some of the place name meanings, take a look at this list of townland names for just the area surrounding the village of Currow. The translations describe something about each piece of property, giving a much clearer sense of what life might have been like for those hoping to gain their living from these green—or rocky, or sometimes desolate—patches of land.

Though the land might have been beautiful, it must have demanded hard work from those trying to extract a living from it. Consider the Irish place name Farran, meaning land, field or territory. Add to it the Irish word for dear—or expensive—and you find the townland name of Farrandoctor actually reveals a wry editorial comment on one person’s lot in life:
 A dear profitless spot of land.

Field north of Killarney in County Kerry Ireland

Photograph: Field with cows grazing, to the north of Killarney in or near the townland of Lisheennacannina in County Kerry, Ireland; courtesy of Chris Stevens.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Greener Pastures Beyond Killarney

Breathtaking. Beauty. The hills. The greenery. The oohs and ahhs—and eeeeks!—as we drove along rain-slicked, one-and-a-half-lane country roads. That was the part of County Kerry, just north of Killarney, where our Kelly and Falvey ancestors once lived.

Because our Kelly line was the last to emigrate from Ireland, I thought we stood a better chance of tracing some of these ancestors on paper, back in County Kerry. Civil Registrations did not, up until 1864, include Catholic marriages—thus, I miss any governmental record of the marriage of John Kelly and Johanna Falvey—but beginning at that same date, the addition of both birth and death records helped at least a little in locating possible whereabouts of the family before they left Ireland.

Despite the lack of earlier governmental records, I did find a marriage transcription—supposedly from church records—listing a John Kelly “of Knockancore” who married a Johanna Falvey on March 2, 1859. As it turns out, their son Timothy—if, indeed, he was the firstborn of this couple—was born in 1860, fingering this marriage record as a likely candidate for our couple’s documentation.

Because of the Civil Registrations’ beginning date for births, I was unable to locate any record of their daughter Catherine’s birth—she being my husband’s great-grandmother. But various records for the birth of Catherine’s younger sister Mary suggest John Kelly no longer lived in Knockauncore—although, apparently, property records show both a Kelly and a Falvey woman renting property there since the early 1850s.

The trouble with the various transcriptions for Mary Kelly is that there may actually have been two children by that name—the one born in 1864 likely not surviving childhood, and her name subsequently given to a later child in 1867.

Of the various baptismal records, we can piece together the trail the family left as they moved from location to location. One record for the 1864 Mary had her living in Currow, although the sponsors’ names of James and Margaret Fleming match that of the neighbors in Griffith’s Valuation for the two Knockauncore women I suspect may have been the proud grandmothers. Another record for 1864—as well as the later Mary’s arrival in 1867—showed the birth in a place called Molahiffe.

It wasn’t until later that I found an entry for John Kelly, himself, in the Griffith’s Valuation for Molahiffe—which, it was explained, is the name of the civil parish. The actual townland was listed as Lisheenacannina—the very place our bed and breakfast host had struggled to identify for us during our visit in Killarney. I also discovered that the civil parish for Knockauncore was Kilcummin, another name I had run across. Could the Currow entries for the Marys with the same general dates have referred to the location ("Barnfield" and "Killeentierna") of the Catholic Church diocese? Or were these two Currow entries, coincidentally, for yet another John and Johanna Falvey Kelly who also happened to have two daughters born in 1864 and 1867—both of whom they named Mary?

Another question I had, before traveling to Ireland, hinged off these many small towns to which the family’s name was linked. Could they all be for the same family? Someone on a Facebook genealogy page had suggested comparing the distances between each of the townlands to see whether travel would be feasible, back in that era. Having driven in the area, I did sit down and map it all out.

The distances would not be beyond the realm of possibility. Then, too, when I discussed this with various archivists and genealogists in Ireland, they indicated that, due to rent issues on properties at that time, families could find themselves frequently moving from place to place. Our Kelly ancestors' situation could be an example of those rental difficulties.

No matter how beautiful the surroundings may have been, I imagine it would have been quite taxing to not be able to adequately provide for a family’s well-being. Couple that with possible letters home from other family members, boasting of a land of plenty and a place of abundant job opportunities, and those rain-kissed hills may have lost some of their verdant allure for a family hard-pressed to survive tough economic times.

Photograph: Field along a country road in or near the townlands of Lisheennacannina in the Parish of Molahiffe in County Kerry, Ireland; courtesy Chris Stevens.

Monday, November 24, 2014

County Kerry:
How the Other Half Lived

One thing I had to face up to, when heading to Ireland to do hands-on genealogical research, was that I was not seeking the lines of the well-to-do. On the contrary, my father-in-law’s Irish forebears were all of a rather regular sort. Why else would they have fled the shores of their beloved homeland for an uncertain future—not to mention, a risky voyage?

Still, when we drove from our home base in County Cork to explore the region where our Kelly and Falvey ancestors once lived, we didn’t only zero in on the specific patches of greenery which once housed their shanties. We took a weekend to look around. This was, after all, the famed County Kerry, home of the Ring of Kerry, the drive along the Wild Atlantic Way. This was home to the beautiful Lakes of Killarney.

Besides, the count in our Volkswagen Passat rental car was now up to four non-genealogists and one dedicated researcher. Clearly, I was outnumbered. We did the tourist route.

One helpful aspect about taking in all the details of an ancestor’s home region is how it gives the researcher a sense of the bigger picture of life. The fresh smell of the air, the ever-shifting movement of the clouds, the abundance of rainbows: all went into the ambience of what life must have been like for our last set of ancestors to leave Ireland.

It was likely not until the late 1860s that our Kelly family left County Kerry. By then, it was John Kelly, the former Johanna Falvey—John’s wife of nearly ten years—and their surviving children Timothy, Catherine and Mary who headed to Fort Wayne, Indiana.

That, however, was not before the arrival of Queen Victoria at a neighboring household in the county. Of course, it’s doubtful that John and Johanna ever got to catch a glimpse of the queen at her arrival. They were living in one of the townlands to the north of the town of Killarney. The Queen and her entourage, however, were housed at the impressive sixty-five-room mansion known as Muckross House.

Since I knew the queen had been in the neighborhood back then, perhaps that was enough to excuse our party’s curiosity in getting a gander at the estate, ourselves. After all, it’s been in the hands of the Irish National Parks system since 1932.

Muckross House facing the lake

If the gravel drive leading up to the entryway seems rather plain to you, consider the view that greets a visitor exiting from those doors. Let me turn you around so you benefit from the proper perspective.

View at Muckross House in the Killarney National Park in County Kerry Ireland

The view that greets you is a benefit of the beauty of the region—the Lakes of Killarney. To gain perspective, look for the two cyclists on the path just this side of the lake. Less than four miles from the town of Killarney, it seems like it is in a world of its own.

And it is. If you go about the same distance, only to the north instead of the south, you would still be in awe-inspiring natural beauty, but it would be sans the architectural splendors of such buildings as Muckross House.

There, you would find the rural settings where the commoner folk lived—the households of people like John and Johanna Kelly who would likely never be on the guest list for a social gathering at the mansion. Yet, while the door they exited each morning might not have been the entrance to as grand a domain, the view from the Kellys’ front door was likely as captivating as that of the Lord Lieutenant of Kerry, Henry Arthur Herbert, once host to the Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland.

Muckross House in Killarney National Park in Ireland

All photographs of Muckross House and estate in County Kerry, Ireland, courtesy of Chris Stevens.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Sausage and Politics?
Add Genealogy to That

There’s an old quote that has made the rounds in various formats. One version has it going something like this:
Laws are like sausages. It’s better not to see them being made.

Whether you subscribe to the version attributed to Otto von Bismarck, or to a more flowery form pinned on his contemporary, Vermont attorney—and poet—John Godfrey Saxe, you are sure to agree on the gist of the message: some things are better enjoyed in their finished state.

I’d like to propose that we add genealogy to that list. Here’s why.

For the three and a half years that I’ve been writing A Family Tapestry, I’ve either been spouting off on subjects that matter a great deal to me, or sharing my family history research.

Um, let me amend that: I’ve been sharing my completed family history research.

Then came that glorious day when I realized I’d be able to continue that research—at least on my father-in-law’s Irish lines—by going directly to the counties in the Old Country from which his great grandparents had emigrated.

That, if you hadn’t noticed, was when we made the big shift from reviewing the completed project to becoming spectator-participants in seeing the research unfold.

Sometimes, watching such discoveries as they unfold can be exciting. Mostly, that’s when everything turns out all right, we find the mystery ancestor and everyone heads to the kitchen for an impromptu ice cream sundae after the night’s episode of Who Do You Think You Are brings the celebrity-du-jour’s ancestral saga to a satisfying end.

That’s not what’s been happening around here lately.

Take that 1852 Canada West census record from Paris, Ontario. I thought it was such good fortune to not miss the fact that our Denis and Margaret Flannery Tully family had settled in the same place as another Flannery household. Or that there was another Tully family right down the street.

Now I’m not so happy about that discovery. It’s making things rather messy, in fact.

Yes, I’ve found traces of those families in the baptismal and marriage records for the Ballina parish back home in County Tipperary. But not enough to confirm how the adults are related. After all, Denis and John could be siblings. So could Margaret Flannery Tully and Edmund Flannery. Then again, they could all be cousins. Worse, they could be more distant relatives who all just happened to come from the same place in Ireland.

There’s nothing that can be confirmed until I trace the records to some sort of statement about these people’s parents. And that is not something I’ve been able to find.

So I get sucked into tracing the lines down another generation. And another migration. And another nation.

Or maybe these are not even the same lines. What do you do with these unidentified “maybes”?

I know what I’d do if I were researching them: I’d continue looking in other places for more resources. I’d keep plugging away. Something would be bound to show up one way or another.

But for blogging? I imagine it could tax a reader’s patience. There are only so many research roller coaster rides a vicarious experience can include.

Then there’s the question of what to do, as I find these shreds of possible hits. Where do I plug them in? Michael Tully may be the son of John and Catherine Tully, but I don’t yet know that John Tully definitely fits the profile for my Denis Tully’s family—even if they turned out to be neighbors after a three thousand mile migration. I can’t just stick him on the family tree as a hypothesis. There is no such branch on that Tully tree.

To answer my own question, I do have a roll of butcher paper in my closet calling my name. I’ll likely find myself pinning a long stretch of the stuff up on a wall and taking a packet of post-it pages and sticking my notes up there in pedigree-chart fashion. At least that way, I can move names around on the page as I discover more details. Maybe someday, I’ll find the final shred of information that conclusively links them to the right spot in the Tully and Flannery lines.

In the meantime, that would leave you, dear reader, observing the making of genealogical sausage. A most unappetizing prospect.

So let this be our reminder call to bring us back to the original intent of my post-travel reports. While I will have to leave our visit in County Tipperary unresolved and put it on hold while I examine the makings of this Tully family tree, I have yet to bring you through the rest of our island tour. With that, let’s continue the journey’s report with a last visit to our stop in County Kerry, and from there onwards to the final week in Dublin.

Oh. One more thing: if you are curious about who, exactly, spoke those historic words likening the making of laws to that of the making of sausage, you might be interested in the Quote Investigator’s take on the subject. You’ll notice my amendment regarding genealogy didn’t make it into the final cut.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Meanwhile, Back in the Real World…

While the shift to a virtual world of genealogical research is in full bloom, there still is a world back home that hasn’t yet withered on the vine. It’s the local genealogical society—the place where real people get together with others from their neighborhoods to share their enthusiasm for their latest research discoveries.

I still engage in that old style of genealogical connection, despite social analysis salvos like those found in books like Bowling Alone—or whatever may be said nowadays regarding those “dying” traditions of face-to-face interactions. And—you knew I’d be headed in this direction—it is exactly this week’s local Society meeting that I want to discuss now.

Thursday night, we had one of those meetings which got everyone talking. It zeroed in on one person’s experience, but it could have been an example of what the rest of us could be doing: writing our family’s stories. We have all done the research—often, decades of labor over multiple ancestral lines. But how do we share it?

If you have been following along here on A Family Tapestry, you know I’m a fanatic of Telling the Story. Well, I go beyond just that. I actually collect every example I can find of others who have gotten past the thought of it, and actually put pen to paper—or fingers to keyboard—and put in visible form the narrative hiding behind the research notes. If you are reading here, and are one of those people who actually have accomplished that objective, I have likely bought your book. (Unless, of course, your name is Colleen Brown Pasquale—but I promise, Colleen, your book is on my Christmas wish list!)

My purpose in delving into this sort of collection so deeply is that I want to examine how each author has chosen to unwind the yarn of her life—how to tell that story in a way that is meaningful, even to strangers. I’m not engaging in this study merely for altruistic reasons, of course. My hope is that I will someday do the same: publish a book of our family’s stories. I certainly have plenty of material to do so: everything from the World War II fallout in the life of my father-in-law, Frank Stevens, to the life-changing tragedy that robbed Samuel Bean of both his sight and hearing.

You can imagine how excited I was to learn that yet another such book was recently published—on August 12, 2014, to be exact. And the author happens to live less than an hour’s drive from my home. Not only that, but I had already met her when she was so gracious to allow our county Society’s fledgling writers’ special interest group to visit the one she conducted for a neighboring county’s genealogical society—just to see how to get things started for our own group.

Everything eventually came together to see that very same author become our speaker at this week’s Society meeting. We were treated to an artistically-crafted presentation on how Deborah Conner Mascot came to write the Mariani family’s history as pioneer settlers in the city of San Francisco, and how the author’s own family story eventually intertwined with that of the Marianis—including one Mariani descendant whose hundredth birthday was commemorated by the launching of this book.

With poignant memories infused in everything from the recipes tucked away in the book’s pages to childhood photographs of family visits, Vera’s Chicken Wings and Peas blends the universe of a well-to-do San Francisco family with the homespun life of a different family living on the Marianis' summer-hideaway ranch in the south peninsula Portola Valley. If you are like me, and enjoy seeing how others craft the stories they tell about their family history, you will enjoy seeing life through the eyes of author Debbie Mascot in her latest book. Better yet, if you live in the Bay Area and belong to a genealogical society there, don’t miss the chance to have Debbie share her story live with your group!

I am always touched to see the result of turning the struggles and victories of near-anonymous family members into stories that can be shared and passed down through the generations. We all can be “biographers of insignificant lives.” No matter how small, those lives—of our own family members—are full of hard lessons to be learned, wry observations on the nature of life, even humorous self-reflection. Sometimes, those lives bump up against history and may even share their own fleeting fifteen minutes of fame. But no one will remember those tales unless we take the time to preserve what we’ve learned and transform it into something that can be passed along to future generations.

I’m grateful for all the examples of other people like you and me who have accomplished exactly that. And Debbie Mascot’s book can proudly take her place among the others in achieving that goal—both for the Mariani family, and for her own.

Friday, November 21, 2014

More to Love About Crowdsourcing

The genealogy community is made up of a very giving bunch of people. We’ve seen that all along—even back during those days when researchers used to submit queries for publication in real newsletters and journals. You know, the ones we used to print on paper.

As the genealogy community migrates to more digital means of both research and communication, our altruistic tendencies have made that transition as well. We’ve seen peers on genealogical forums helping each other with questions as basic as where to access local records, or as complex as isolating which child belongs to which multiple-great grandmother—and fingering which last will and testament said so. I know I’ve benefited from that kind of help; I’m sure you have, also.

So it was quite rewarding to become part of that experience once again, the other day, when Kat shared what she had discovered about online resources in Detroit for Catholic cemeteries there. Of course, I had a heyday reveling in that discovery, myself.

But the story didn’t stop there. The next logical step was to share the good news in a meaningful, practical manner, and Iggy was just the one to do it. As a Find A Grave volunteer, he figured it would be helpful to others to create a memorial for the Barkleys in Detroit, these newly-found possible Flannery descendants—even though they are not part of his own family lines—and deftly added several entries on Find A Grave.

It is all like a big chain reaction: one person helps another, who in turn helps others. As others pass the details along, we collectively make more information available to a wider circle of researchers. Sometimes, we use the organizations and structures that are already there for the using—websites like Find a Grave and online forums like Rootsweb—and sometimes, we create our own ways and places to share the information.

No matter how we do it, we are participating in one aspect of genealogical research that creates such a powerful resource: we are giving back to the community as well as benefiting from it. We are passing along the discoveries that we found useful in the hopes that others will find them just as helpful in their own research.

In the process, we amplify what is available for genealogical pursuits. In many cases, the work is done by—or through—organization. Sometimes the work is contributed through concerted effort—like the War of 1812 pension records preservation work—and sometimes the work is done by members working together from one group, like a local genealogical society. Many times, though, it is the handiwork of individuals, contributing what they can to wikis or blogs or other means of online communication.

The strength of that will to give back is what fuels the genealogical community’s viable impetus. Sure, there has been a rise in large commercial entities, willing to provide the giant machine of digitization that has brought all of us great research resources—for a price. But there is still a place for that lone individual who is willing to realize: I have what you need. Here: I’m willing to share. Much as the field of astronomy has benefited from “citizen scientists,” the world of genealogy has come a long way, thanks to this interactive ability to respond to others in our online universe of researchers with that mutual quest for ancestors.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Like Romping in
a Newly-Found Playground

So I hissed and moaned about something. Again. I was having trouble navigating the genealogical research waters in new territory: Detroit, Michigan. Not that I haven’t been thumbing through the files there before. It’s just that all our family lines have been there and soon passed along to greener pastures.

Maybe Detroit is turning out to be a stop along the Irish immigrant highway—that detour to the New World that requires the weary traveler to pass through Canada before arriving at the final destination in the land of the free. It turned out to be true for another branch of our Tully line—Michael and Margaret and children, who moved from Paris, Ontario, through Detroit to their final stop in Chicago. We traced them along that route before.

This time, though, I was looking for a different Michael Tully—son of John and Catherine. And, since I stumbled across them, I’m also searching for another Michael who might turn out to be family—part of the Edmund Flannery family, also from Paris, Ontario.

I couldn’t find what became of them after their arrival in Detroit. They were there for the 1870 census. And the 1880 census. And then—what? I couldn’t find any trace of them.

Normally, my first recourse in this dilemma would be to look them up on Find A Grave. Even though Detroit is a sizeable place, I could be fairly certain that they would only show up in a Catholic cemetery. But which one? Turns out there were more than one Catholic cemetery. And none produced the results I hoped for on Find A Grave.

My next stop would be to look up the cemetery listing on Find A Grave to get more information on each specific cemetery. After that, I’d usually Google each cemetery name to find its website address—then pull up the site and hope it included search capabilities so I could look up specific burials. The self-serve approach is always appreciated. But seldom available.

After my recent attempt at that same pattern when researching descendants on our Kelly line in Denver, though, I made one discovery: sometimes urban areas spread out to include so much of the county that burial locations have to be moved to a neighboring county. Thus, in Denver, the Catholic cemetery which contained the remains of our Kelly relatives was actually in a different county—which, unbeknownst to me at the time, gave me no search results, a frustrating experience.

Perhaps, I thought, the same thing was happening to me in Detroit. I certainly wasn’t getting any promising hits for all my searching.

The moral of this story—and I’ll say this up front so it won’t get lost in any more verbiage—is to never make assumptions that a search won’t work. Just do the search. Do it! All of it. All the possibilities. And then some.

Thankfully, that is not where the story ends. This is where you can see why I am so enthusiastic about the current crowdsourcing aspect of genealogical research. I love that we can share our dilemmas, tell others what stumps us. That’s why I’m a fan of social media—and even those wood-burning clunkers like the genealogy forums of the nineties. We each get the opportunity to share what we know—and at some point, get to reap what we sow with the exchange of information with someone who knows what we need to learn.

Blog readership fits right in the middle of that realm. Do you ever notice how blogs create community? Of the different blogs you read, you’ve surely noticed the continuing conversation that goes on, right below each post. That’s why I like to encourage researchers to share what they’ve found by starting their own blog: eventually (admittedly this takes longer for some people) a distant cousin will find his or her way to your post. If not a cousin, then some kind soul who has something helpful to contribute to the conversation.

That’s why I had that kid-in-candy-shop kind of happy-dance day yesterday: reader Kat passed around the Internet candy from Detroit, and I was bouncing off the walls, merrily looking up every Flannery and Tully connection I could find on this newfound website.

Yeah, if only I had looked farther, myself. If only I had stuck to my usual best intentions. But I didn’t. And I had good reason to—past experience and all. But since I didn’t, I would have missed a great search opportunity if Kat hadn’t mentioned that link to Mount Olivet and the Mount Elliott cemetery association.

I played around with what I could find. I took that site out for a spin. A joy ride. There were plenty of Flannerys listed. Even a few Tullys. And those married daughters I couldn’t find the other day? I zeroed in on the right Mary Lynch (out of several possibilities), and found both Anna Barkley and her husband George.

Don’t think I’ll be doing everything online, though. On my to-do list for today is placing a call to the Mount Olivet cemetery (where the records for Mount Elliott are held). I want to see if any of those Flannerys are buried in what is called a family plot. Hopefully, if the person on the other end of the line is helpful and not too busy, I’ll not only make sure I’ve isolated the correct family grouping, but find out who else is buried in that same plot. Sometimes, there are surprises. At the very least, I will be able to determine that I’ve gotten the Michael Flannery who belongs to Ann, and not someone else. That alone will get me tap dancing in the right direction.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Thoughts While Wandering Around

Searching for genealogically-sound connections sometimes seems like, oh, say, being stuck inside a one-man tent that just collapsed on you in the middle of an overnight camping trip. You know you’re in there. You know what’s out there. But for the moment, all you can do is poke around until you find the opening and get yourself out.

I have to remind myself not to despair. It sometimes seems like hit after hit of results seems futile, when all point to false leads. But they don’t always lead to the wrong stuff. I can’t help but remember going through this process once before—starting from that very same Paris neighborhood in Ontario just one decade later—and ending up having a delightful lunch meeting with a new set of distant cousins, back in Chicago. It can happen again. But only if I keep plugging away at it. Even when I think it is useless.

This is me, giving myself a pep talk. I don’t do well with wandering around in circles, poking at possibilities. And that is what it feels like I’m doing.

See, this Michael Flannery I'm seeking is not showing his true colors. I found someone by this same name, back in Paris, Ontario. And then, he’s gone. Gone to Michigan, where I found a similar Michael Flannery? Who knows? It might have been merely coincidence that he lived next door, in Detroit, to someone with the very same name as the brother back in Ontario.

So I wander through his life history—at least the part the census record is willing to divulge. Once every ten years, it gives a researcher like me a snapshot of what was going on in the family life of suspected ancestors. And then, not a peep for the next ten years—if, that is, I can even find the family once again.

In Michael’s case, I couldn’t. Not after 1910. The key, of course, is to stay with the chase up ’til the bitter end. That’s when the genealogist gets the prize: the certificate that announces the name of the subject's father and mother, and where he was born. If, that is, anyone serving as the reporting party remembers to mention it. (Correctly would also be a nice touch.)

I don’t have to worry about that little detail, though, because I can’t even get to the point of finding the death certificate. That’s when I have to fan out even farther, looking for any hints connecting me back to Michael.

There is the possibility of uncovering where all his unfortunate children were buried in Detroit, Michigan. As his wife Ann had reported in the 1910 census, she had lost six of them by that point. I did go back and find some more listings online, but they were records from indices, not copies of the actual documents. Of course, the detail I’m seeking is one not included in the transcribers’ instructions: the place of burial. For Michael’s children Catherine in 1870, Maggie in 1883, Hanora and John in that same year and Michael in 1893, I can find references to their deaths. But only one includes a digitized scan of the original document—Catherine’s, from 1870—and that entry does not include any mention of the place of burial. So much for locating the family plot.

What about the two daughters for whom I found married names? Even with these, I’m struggling. I did find daughter Mary’s death record, identifying her married name as Lynch. But the index for this, while telling me of her August 22, 1947, passing, does not provide any record of where she was buried. The other sister—Johanna, who married George A. Barkley in 1911, likely a widower—remains as difficult to locate as Mary.

Even if I forget about that detail, and just try to follow them through the census record, I run into difficulties. For the very next census in 1920, I can’t find a likely candidate for Mary Lynch in Michigan. One turns out to be a single woman living in the household of her brother-in-law. The other, nicknamed Mamie, gives both parents’ place of birth as New York. Wrong.

On the other hand, at least I make some progress in tracing Johanna and her spouse in the 1920 census. They are living with his two sons, George and Russell. Coincidentally, they are living right next door to a fellow by the name of Frank Flannigan.

Suddenly this is starting to sound familiar. I look up to check the street name for their residence, and it is Russell Street in Detroit. Feeling pretty confident about those details, I flip back to the 1910 census for Michael and Ann Flannery. After all, they had had a “boarder” by the name of Frank Flanagan, whom I suspected might be Ann’s brother. And in this census, here we have a case of Michael and Ann’s married daughter and family renting from someone by the same name as that previous boarder. Both on Russell Street.

Coincidental neighbors? Or family? Either way, I’ve got to keep following this trail to build a phantom family tree. Until I can find a link back to our line in Canada—or a way to disprove the whole association—I’ve got to keep searching.

If I want to know the answer, that is…

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Tracing Michael

Researching our Tully and Flannery lines from County Tipperary has provided an abundance of descendants to trace. Only sometimes, I’m not sure I’m tracking the right person.

Take Michael Flannery, whom we stumbled upon while chasing after a different Michael—Michael Tully, (possible) son of John and Catherine Flannery Tully. Along with his parents, Michael Tully had left the town where his immigrant parents had settled—Paris, Ontario—and headed for the brighter lights of Detroit, Michigan, just across the Canadian border. Apparently, Michael Flannery—the other Michael’s possible cousin and neighbor in Ontario—had done much the same thing.

The question, at this point, would be whether this Michael Flannery in Detroit was one and the same as the Michael born to Edmund and Margaret Flannery in the parish of Ballina, back in northern County Tipperary. One way to answer that question would be to check for marriage records identifying the groom’s parents’ names, but none could be found online. And I’m not going to make you (to say nothing about me!) wait long enough to send a query by mail system.

Another way to puzzle this one out would be to trace Michael Flannery forward through census records to get a sense of when he might have died, and where. Any death certificate this would lead to would likely also contain information on his parents’ names.

Michael and his wife, Ann, were in the 1870 census for Detroit, Michigan. At the point at which the census enumerator knocked on their door on the second of July, there were just two in the family to report. However, only a short while before that, Michael and Ann had been proud parents of a one year old daughter, Catherine. That was before they lost her on the second of May, that very year, to scarlet fever.

By the time of the 1880 census, the Flannery household had grown to include seven. Besides Michael and Ann, there were five children: daughters Annie, Mary, Margaret and Honora, plus son Francis right in the midst of all those sisters.

The next time I could find Michael and Ann Flannery in the U.S. Census wasn’t until 1910. Still in Detroit, Michigan, the seventy-eight year old Michael included in his family his wife Ann and daughters Anna, Helen and “Loretha.” Also in the household were two boarders, including one who sported the same surname—Flanagan—as Ann had claimed as her maiden name. Mr. Flanagan also happened to be born in Canada, where Michael and Ann had once lived. Add in for good measure that his given name was Frank—same as Ann’s child Francis, the lone son among four sisters—and one suspects this Frank Flanagan was more than just a boarder.

The sad part about this 1910 census report was Ann’s statement that she had been the mother of eleven—only five of whom had survived to that date. Besides their daughter Catherine in 1870, they had also lost a nine year old son, Michael, in 1893. Other than that, no documentation could be found online to substantiate that census report.

The question remains: what became of Michael and Ann in the 1900 census? Did they, like others, perfect that census-season disappearing act?

It may require a stretch of credibility to claim that the Flannerys decided to return to Canada for just that one year, but it turns out there was a Frank Flannery in Ontario—along with parents Michael and Ann—for the 1901 Canadian census. With the ages lining up just right for Frank between his original appearance in the U.S. Census for 1880 and this Canadian one in 1901, it is beginning to look good for this conjecture. Besides, on the very next page, who should show up but a possible member of the extended Tully family—this one named Thomas—to complete the picture. On the down side, though, Michael and Ann had ages reported that were more than ten years younger than what should have been showing for that year. But when you take the international borders out of the equation, you see that Frank's Essex County farm is only one county away from Wayne County, home of the city of Detroit, making this move much more within reason.

Whether the farm of Frank Flannery of Essex County, Ontario, was the place that claimed our Michael and Ann Flannery for the 1901 Canadian Census, they didn’t stay there for long. By the time of the 1910 U.S. census, as we saw, they were back in America.

As for what became of them after that, I’m not sure. I can find no death record online for Michael or Ann in Michigan. Nor can I see any possible matches on Find A Grave. They did have a couple married daughters that I could find—Mary, marrying someone by the name of Lynch, and Johanna, marrying someone named George A. Barkley—who may have taken in either of their aging parents in their last years. Both of these married daughters lived in Michigan, and their households would have shown resident parents for the 1920 census—if either Michael or Ann were still living. I suspect they weren’t. But the search for verification is still on.

Monday, November 17, 2014

From One Michael to Another

While I was in the neighborhood, seeking whatever became of the Michael Tully, son of John and Catherine whom I had found in Detroit, that fruitless search led to yet another Michael who might have been a relative of our Irish immigrant families.

If you recall, I had traced this Tully family from County Tipperary in Ireland, over the Atlantic to a tiny village in Brant County, Ontario, called Paris. Along with John and Catherine Flannery Tully’s family, the same 1852 census page also recorded a Flannery family—which handily also contained a Michael—as well as our direct line, Denis and Margaret Flannery Tully.

Could they have all moved to Detroit together?

I mentioned, the other day, that Michael Tully had seemed to disappear after I located him in the 1880 census. My theory was that, switching tracks and looking on another database, I might find something I couldn’t find at my first research stop. And that’s exactly what happened. I moved from what I had found on Michael Tully in to check what might be available on

This time, I did locate a possible death record for Michael Tully, still in Detroit. Unfortunately, the record is contained in a collection sans photocopies, so the index only included a listing of the father’s surname. It did not include any information on the mother’s maiden name.

Great, I thought: this could be anybody. Of course a man’s father’s surname should be the same as his own! However, I settled down enough to realize that there were other clues fingering our guy:

  • He was born in Canada
  • His year of birth (1853) matched prior census records
  • He was still listed as single

I need more substantiation before I determine that the Michael Tully who died in Detroit on 28 December, 1921, was one and the same as my Michael, son of John and Catherine Flannery Tully. I made a mental note to post a plea on an online genealogical forum for local assistance in obtaining an obituary, since this man’s headstone was not among those millions listed at Find A Grave. And then I moved on to see what else I could find.

Sometimes, I try a search trick in which I leave the main fields blank—you know, that place where we automatically fill in the person’s first and last names—but instead, complete the search box by adding in only the parents’ surnames. That idea didn’t go over so well for our Michael. While it did flush out a Tully woman whose mother’s maiden name was Flannery when I tried it on, it was for someone so far afield of my data possibilities that I discarded it out of hand.

Well, almost. I’ll hang on to that one, just in case. One never knows.

I stumbled upon a refresher post on resources for Michigan death certificates online by Diane Gould Hall on her Michigan Family Trails blog, and tried my hand at trawling through all the Michigan death certs I could find at Just in case Michael’s own parents died earlier than he, I tried poking around GENDIS, Michigan’s Genealogical Death Indexing System, but could find nothing for either John Tully or Catherine Flannery Tully.

I tried searching the GENDIS for surname only, to see if anything—anything—would come up. Nothing. Not on Tully. Not on Flannery. Then I left the decedent’s name fields blank and just entered the father’s surname.

Somewhere in the midst of all that poking around, I did flush out a result. It was for a one-year-old child who died of scarlet fever.

Her father’s name was Michael. But the surname was not Tully. It was Flannery.

Wait! Flannery? I have one of those!

And I was off, on a wild search for a Michael Flannery who now lived in Detroit, but at one time—could it have been the same one?—lived in Paris, Ontario in Canada. It could all be a coincidence. But if I could find any pattern of immigration between Paris, Ontario, and Detroit, Michigan, perhaps I could reconstruct these three families whose heads of household at one time were not only neighbors, but likely siblings.
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